Asia, not North America, now has most millionaires

Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:11pm EDT
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By Joseph A. Giannone

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Weakening economies that roiled markets last year also took their toll on the world's rich, though faster-growing Asia for the first time had more millionaires than North America, according to a study released on Tuesday.

A new report said the global personal wealth of people with $1 million and more to invest fell in 2011 for the second time in four years, reflecting the euro zone crisis and economic sluggishness in developed markets. But several emerging markets also felt pain, as the number of millionaires in India and Hong Kong fell by almost one-fifth.

And with Europe's debt crisis still in full throttle, the outlook for wealth creation in 2012 remains dim, according to Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management's latest world wealth report.

The world's population of millionaires grew by 0.8 percent to a record 11 million, according to the report, yet their collective wealth fell by 1.7 percent to $42 trillion. Every region except the Middle East saw declines in wealth. It was the first global drop in millionaire wealth since the 2008 financial crisis, when the ranks of the wealthy fell by 15 percent and their wealth contracted by 20 percent.

Families with $30 million or more to invest saw their combined wealth fall 4.9 percent and their ranks shrink by 2.5 percent to 100,000 people. This decrease reflects their holdings in higher-risk and less liquid investments like hedge funds, private equity and real estate.

Sinking stocks, slowing exports and slumping currencies hit some countries especially hard. India saw its ranks of millionaires fall by 27,500, or 18 percent to 125,500 last year, reflecting a one-third decline in stock market values and a weakening rupee. Hong Kong's millionaire population fell by 17.4 percent as euro zone woes weighed on its own growth.

Last year was the first time India's wealthy declined in population since 2008, when their ranks fell by 32 percent amid falling stock prices and lower global demand for goods and services, according to Capgemini.

"It was a challenging environment for our clients," George Lewis, global head of wealth management at Royal Bank of Canada, said in an interview.   Continued...